What is Project Fi?

Project Fi is a new mobile phone carrier offering from Google. Since I signed up for the invite-only service back in March 2015, Project Fi has become available to the general public, and has emerged as a cost-effective and reliable alternative to traditional carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

If you’re in the market for a new Android phone, and you aren’t completely happy with your current mobile plan, then Project Fi is probably worth a look.

How does it work?

From the get-go, Fi was refreshingly simple. Once I got my Project Fi SIM in the mail, all I did was pop the card into my new Nexus 5x phone, follow a few on-screen prompts, and then wait a few minutes while Google handled all the behind-the-scenes technical work involved with porting my phone number and establishing the service.

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I contacted Fi tech support because of an issue related to my number port, and to my surprise they were quite responsive and helpful. The whole phone setup process took about 30 minutes, all from the comfort of my home.

Once your phone is set up, Fi works by giving you mobile data service on three mobile networks, which your phone will intelligently switch between — it also uses Wi-Fi to make calls and send texts whenever available.

Project Fi is a “prepaid” carrier, meaning you pay upfront for your service in the trailing month, which is the opposite of a traditional carrier (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) that bills you after you use the service.

Networks change in quality as you move around. To help you get the highest-quality connection at your location, Project Fi uses new technology to intelligently connect you to the fastest network whether it’s Wi-Fi or one of Google’s partner LTE networks. I’ve found that Fi network coverage and call quality are generally very good here in Los Angeles.

One of my favorite features with Fi is the way my phone can automatically detect and connect me to nearby open Wi-Fi hotspots. Normally, I stay away from public hotspots for security reasons, but Fi automatically connects to open Wi-Fi through a secure connection, known as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This secure connection protects data from being looked at by other users on the open Wi-Fi network.

By intelligently keeping me connected to Wi-Fi networks instead of mobile 4G/LTE, Project Fi helps keep my monthly data usage (and billing) under control.

What does it cost?

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Project Fi has only one simple, no-contract monthly plan called Fi Basics.

For $20/month, the plan includes unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, Wi-Fi tethering to use your phone as a hotspot, and access cellular coverage in 135+ countries and destinations.

Data costs $10/month per 1 GB. At the end of each month, you’ll get your unused data credited in dollars and cents, so you only pay for what you use.

For customers who are usually connected to a Wi-Fi network and rarely use more than 1 GB of data per month (like myself), the Fi Basic plan is a great deal.

The phone itself (a Nexus 5X manufactured by LG) cost $249 and came with 32 GB of storage. I had the option of financing the phone over a period of 24 months at $10.38/mo, but I chose to buy the phone outright.

I also bought a new USB car charger for my new phone, which cost about $15 on Amazon.

Project Fi: Pros and Cons

Speaking of phone hardware, one of the biggest drawbacks of signing up for a new Project Fi plan is that you’ll be limited to only a few Android phone models to choose from. Currently, only the Android-powered Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6 phones are enabled with the special network-hopping SIM cards required for Fi to work (sorry, iPhone users).

On the plus side, Google is offering a discount of $150 off of the normal price for the Nexus 5X, with activation required. Until October 12, 2016, if you purchase a Nexus 5X from fi.google.com, the discounted price will automatically apply during checkout.

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Another downside of buying a Nexus phone is that it requires the new USB Type-C connector, which is not (yet) widely used. Though USB Type-C offers super fast charging and data transfer speeds, you may find it difficult to find a spare charger if you forget yours at home.

On the plus side, my new Project Fi-powered Nexus smartphone has been fast, powerful, secure, cost effective, and has been an overall great mobile experience for the past year. Some of my favorite features include:

  • Simple no-contract plan and pricing, ideal for light data usage.
  • High-quality, inexpensive LG phone hardware running the latest Android OS.
  • Fi network coverage is generally very good in Los Angeles.
  • “Plain” Android OS, without carrier add-on “bloatware” apps to slow down my phone.
  • Critical Android OS updates available directly from Google (no waiting for AT&T or Verizon to release updates months late).
  • Fingerprint ID unlocks my phone quickly and accurately.

Is Fi right for me?

There are lots of cool features that make Project Fi a good choice, like the simplified billing, included international features and improved network coverage through the use of three carriers and Wi-Fi networks. Each one will have a different amount of draw for different people, though.

Project Fi’s pricing isn’t dramatically lower than other carriers out there, and whether it makes a good choice financially for you depends on your data usage and which features you want. I encourage you to do your pricing research before choosing which carrier is the best.

Whether you’re still on the fence or just curious about it, you can get more information by visiting the Project Fi website. Of course, you can always contact us with tech-related questions as well.

Additional references: Wired, AndroidCentral, Forbes, ComputerWorld

Author: Kevin S.

Kevin Sanders is a Los Angeles native who has worked in tech support and customer service since 2000. He specializes in professional IT consulting, cloud technology, cyber security, networking and Wi-Fi, hardware/software diagnostics and repair, and custom systems building.

8 thoughts on “What is Project Fi?”

  1. I followed Kevin’s advice and I’m glad. It is a great phone. Unlimited calls within the US and to Europe for about $30.00 a month.

  2. I think this is a really interesting concept. Are there plans to make the service available on other phones? I’m a longtime Apple user but I don’t think they’ve done a great job with their own apps and some other phones are stunning.

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